The Blue Jays are weighing a pair of familiar names for their first base/DH vacancy, as Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith (Twitter link) reports that Edwin Encarnacion and Justin Smoak are “getting consideration” from the club. The Jays also continue to be “intrigued” by Japanese free agent Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, though it “certainly doesn’t seem like they’re close on anything” with the slugger.
A fractured right wrist and a strained oblique limited Encarnacion to only 109 games and 486 plate appearances in 2019, his lowest totals in either category since the 2010 season. When Encarnacion was healthy, however, he still wielded a formidable bat, hitting .244/.344/.531 with 34 homers for the Mariners and Yankees. Encarnacion turns 37 in January and would likely be used mostly as a DH in Toronto, owing to both his age, the Rogers Centre’s artificial surface, and the Jays’ desire to see what they have in first baseman Rowdy Tellez.
With a market likely limited to American League teams and a relative lack of DH openings among those teams, Encarnacion could likely be had on a one-year deal, which is surely attractive to a rebuilding Jays team. Bringing Encarnacion back would also undoubtedly be well-received by Toronto’s fans, as Encarnacion was a very popular figure while hitting 239 homers (the third-highest total in club history) for the Jays from 2009-16.
Smoak was another fan favorite for his five solid seasons with the Jays, most notably his 38-homer outburst in 2017. Despite being perhaps the unluckiest hitter in baseball in 2019, Smoak still managed a slightly above-average (101 wRC+ and OPS+) offensive showing of .208/.342/.406 with 22 homers over 500 PA. We haven’t heard much news on the 33-year-old Smoak this winter, though there was some indication after the season that the Blue Jays were thinking about a potential reunion as they weighed their first base options.
What could hurt both Encarnacion and Smoak, however, is that they are only first basemen, whereas GM Ross Atkins has a stated preference for first base “alternatives that are more flexible, can play other positions as well.” Tsutsugo has an advantage in this regard, as he has primarily played outfield for the last several seasons for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars while also having some first base and third base experience in his past. While Tsutsugo isn’t considered to be particularly adept defensively at any position, the Blue Jays might not mind since he’d be slated for a good chunk of DH time anyway.
The 28-year-old Tsutsugo has an impressive .285/.382/.528 slash line and 205 home runs over exactly 4000 PA during his 10 seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League teams have until December 19 to negotiate a contract with Tsutsugo, and clubs will then have to pay an additional posting fee (as determined by the size of the contract) to the BayStars under the MLB/NPB posting system.